The Five Breakout Stars of Summer 2011

For the third year in a row, I present to you my list of five stars who are bound to break out after big roles or impressive performances this summer. Why do I sound so confident? Because my track record is pretty good. Here’s last year’s list, for example. Although strangely a lot of those folks follow-up film haven’t even come out yet, they’ve been lining up projects or have been rumored to star in big ones. And truth be told, if a budding star has a lot of projects line up already, well, it’s an easy call to make. As such, I feel pretty confident about these newcomers.


5. Charlie Day – “Horrible Bosses”

If you’re a fan of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” Charlie Day has been an established comedic presence for years, but most fans of “Sunny” are not the mainstream comedy demographic.

With his part in “Horrible Bosses,” where he was the unquestioned standout as an assistant to the nympho dentist played by Jennifer Aniston, he got to shine for adult audiences and expose his talents to the 40-years-and-up moviegoers who generally don’t watch “Sunny.” That should spell a great deal more offers to star in R-rated comedies among other options for a long time, especially with “Horrible Bosses” cracking $100 million in the U.S.

Next seen in: “Pacific Rim,” Guillermo del Toro’s monster action movie coming July 2013 (though likely something before then)


4. Melissa McCarthy – “Bridesmaids”

The other comedic standout this summer was Melissa McCarthy. Long known to fans of “Gilmore Girls” and those who sawless famous shows “Samantha Who?” and last fall’s “Mike & Molly,” McCarthy has had a lengthy career, but when you star in a mainstream and acclaimed R-rated comedy alongside Kristen Wiig, you’re going to get noticed.

You might not think about it or like to admit it, but women comics don’t have it easy. The ones who shine the brightest are the pretty ones (Anna Faris, Mila Kunis), usually by playing rom-com leads and rarely getting to comic stars. McCarthy suggests the fat-and-funny model for male comics can work for females and by all means let’s hope she’s just the beginning.

Next seen in: “This is Forty,” Judd Apatow’s next comedy out Summer 2012

3. Jessica Chastain – “The Tree of Life” and “The Help”

Prior to a couple years ago, no one, I mean no one, knew who Jessica Chastain was. In 2008 she played the title role in the indie “Jolene” and then had a part in the little-known crime thriller “Stolen” with Josh Lucas and Jon Hamm. But I guess when you’re cast with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn as one of only three main actors in a wildly anticipated Terrence Malick film (“The Tree of Life”), people notice you quick.

In August she played the delightful change-of-pace character Celia Foote in “The Help” and now it seems all her indie projects (which were filmed at various times) are set to unload this fall, so expect Chastain to land on the mainstream map with a thud. She stars in “The Debt” on this Wednesday, Ralph Fiennes’ debut “Coriolanus,” Al Pacino’s pet project “Wilde Salome,” the supernatural drama “Take Shelter” and the crime thriller “Texas Killing Fields.” She has main parts in all of them, in case you weren’t impressed. At this rate, she’s fast-tracking herself to an Oscar nomination at some point in her career.

Next seen in: “The Debt” on Aug. 31 and “Texas Killing Fields” on Oct. 7


2. Michael Fassbender – “X-Men: First Class”

Hollywood has been high on Fassbender for some time now, but there’s no question “X-Men: First Class” was his chance to strut his stuff for a mainstream audience and now he’s a bona fide action star. There’s no question (in my mind) that if James Bond was up in there air right now, Michael Fassbender would win cinema’s most coveted role in a heartbeat. An Irishman playing Bond? Hey Superman’s a Brit, I think we would survive.

After being overlooked in “300,” Fassbender wandered for a few years until striking gold with Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” where his scene in the German bar as a British soldier sporting a German accent won a lot of warranted attention. He just manages to make everything more emotional, which should make his turn as an android character in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller “Prometheus” next summer all the more interesting.

Next seen in: “A Dangerous Method,” the Sigmund Freud biopic, on Nov. 23


1. Chris Hemsworth – “Thor”

There are a lot of really talented actors, but not many actors who just have an “it” factor as a hero. Chris Hemsworth proved he has “it” in “Thor.” Many doubted whether a newcomer could carry an obscure comic book adaptation to glory, but he did and with plenty of charisma to spare.

The result? “Snow White and the Huntsman,” next summer’s “Snow White” action/adventure, was rewritten so the Huntsman character would fit him. He’s attached by rumor to numerous action films including Ron Howard’s biopic on Formula 1 racer Niki Lauda that was scripted by Oscar-winner Peter Morgan. More noticeably, he will return as the God of Thunder in “The Avengers” next summer.

Next seen in: Joss Whedon’s delayed horror film “The Cabin in the Woods” on April 13, 2012.


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